Finally someone has gotten the wherewithal to issue a compilation CD from Josef K. Like Joy Division or the Buzzcocks, this seemingly anonymous Edinburgh-based outfit wore their misery and angst on their sleeves. Their music was reminiscent of that weird kid at school who disturbed everyone with a darting stare or a few strange phrases.
Musically, Josef K were a dark lot who created solid art-pop records in the vein of Televison or the Velvet Underground. They had the darkness of Bauhaus and the keen sense of pop melody that Devo would kill for. Initially they seemed to be a brief blip on the UK pop scene, however, in retrospect they were massively important.
Despite a memorable debut album, The Only Fun In Town, Josef K are most famous in larger circles for “Sorry For Laughing,” a pop gem later covered by Propaganda.
Their sophomore effort, Sorry for Laughing was a nightmare. Recorded first in 1980, it was subsequently re-recorded and fiddled with to exhaustion, eventually being released in more palatable format in 1981. Having endured that exhausting creative process the band called it a day shortly thereafter.
That’s why Entomology is truly special. It compiles the band’s 1981 John Peel Session (including a great cover of Alice Cooper’s “Applebush”) with obscure 7″ singles, featuring the punchy opener “Radio Drill Time.” Entomology also features clever B-sides like the sharp “Final Request” and the frenetic “The Angle,” both of which show a band experimenting and searching to broaden their capabilities.
The real treasure is hearing material from the original Sorry For Laughing sessions. These six tracks, especially “Drone,” “Heads Watch” and “Citizens” show a fuller band, itching to expand, grow and be heard.
Franz Ferdinand may be the new Scottish gentry, but it was Josef K who threw the first punch to the staid music scene of the early 1980s. Vocalist Paul Haig dragged the gritty Scottish underground into the shimmering light of Britian’s New Wave movement, delivering bruises to the UK pop world in the process.
Entomology drives home the point that Josef K were an all-too-short-lived band of roustabouts that did whatever they wanted while crafting great rough-around-the-edges pop music. Their formula of gloomy lyrics, brittle guitars and winding boppy melodies paved the way for bands like Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys and the Futureheads.
Domino Records: www.dominorecordco.us